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Retro reflection: Starwing

I love retro gaming. I love older games for their nostalgic value, their groundbreaking features or graphics and gameplay; I also love newer games with that retro feel – something you can’t always describe, but know it’s different to its counterparts.

However, growing up and gaming as a child in the 90s meant I was reliant on my parents for new games. As such, I didn’t get that many nor did I play some of the most fondly-remembered games of that era, whereas adults probably would have. When I earned my own money through legitimate means, we were in the PlayStation 2 generation. And when I could properly feed my gaming habit, I owned a Wii, PS3 and a 360. So, while I love retro games, I never had the chance to check off a number of lauded releases.

That’s changed and I now have a very small collection of games I intend to play for the first time. This Retro Reflection feature will document that process.

Having seen Starwing as a child and shunning it 20 years ago, I’ve decided to give it a fair chance.

I’ve played Lylat Wars many times (and own it), and was obsessed with it on release. So, I’ve tried to treat Starwing exactly as it was: the pioneer.

Starwing actually has one my favourite intros to a game. The music is perfect, setting the tone of the game. It doesn’t hold back – the first thing you see is a couple of friendly ships being destroyed. The scene does remind me of the opening to Star Wars; a smaller ship being pursued by a much larger enemy.

While this is my first proper playthrough of Starwing, I had seen it before. I remember thinking as a child how cool it looked. Having been used to 2D platformers, this was mind-blowing. Considering the tech available at the time, it was impressive stuff for the SNES, but I find it extremely difficult to focus on the game. This is primarily down to resolution and the sheer number of things occurring on screen.

The difficulty in this game lies in perception. Because the 3D polygon graphics were somewhat limited (although brilliant at the time), it’s extremely hard to know where things are in relation to other objects. For instance, an enemy fires at you – it looks like you are safe. Then, out of nowhere, the bloody laser/ball of fiery mass hits you. Or, I will dodge one object and fly into something that was previously offscreen. It can be very frustrating – much like Jessica Alba’s no-nudity movie contracts (sigh).

Stating the obvious, Lylat Wars is a far clearer game in terms of overall picture clarity, which means I can’t blame a fuzzy picture for my lack of skill. With Starwing I can and very often do. But there’s something about its laudable attempt at 3D polygon graphics – I forgive it for its unwavering punishment, simply because it’s a damn good game.

I like that its not too linear, relatively speaking. Rather than complete one level, save and eventually progress to the end, there are actually three routes to the final showdown. Each route represents a different difficulty level and each also features unique levels. There are no save points. You simply pick a route and see how far you get, similar to my flirting technique.

For me, that’s not very far… nor do I get very far on Starwing. If you survive a good chunk of the level unscathed, then you have a good chance. Once you start taking hits, it can very quickly go downhill (I’m talking about Starwing, not women). In a bid to avoid enemy fire, I often roll to the left or right. Invariably, what happens is I roll straight into a succession of objects, leaving Arwing-shaped holes in them, and the situation deteriorates rapidly. When I do complete a tougher level, half the time it feels like an accident and not through actual skill. Somehow, I’ve crashed my way through asteroids and enemies, and flown through enough rings to replenish my shield before firing like crazy at the big boss. It reminds me of a clip from the movie Battleship (don’t worry, I haven’t seen it; I hear it’s terrible). My boss fights go something like this.

At this point, I’ll admit I haven’t completed Starwing (boo, hiss). This is primarily down to it giving me sickness-inducing nausea after about 10 minutes of gameplay. I put this entirely down to my difficulty focusing on any part of the screen. In my defence, I have completed Lylat Wars, so I’ll scrape back and gather together some respectability from that.

All in all, I do love this game. It’s technically impressive, the sound is impeccable and it’s just plain fun to play. Despite it making me ill, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering what I missed when I chose Mario and not Fox.

I’ll keep ploughing on and will attempt to complete the game. I guess you could all wish me “Good Luck”.

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